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Gay, and proud of it
There’s no more hiding away in closets for Kiri Spanos as he prepares to represent Cyprus in Mr Gay Europe contest this week says ZOE CHRISTODOULIDES
“Being gay is just about acceptable for some members of society in Cyprus,” says the boyishly handsome Kiri Spanos, giving his short dark hair a quick slick with his hand and putting aside his aviator sunglasses.
“But to be openly gay is a whole different matter. People here don’t like it if you actually publically show that you’re a homosexual.”
The 24-year-old Kiri, however, is determined to change the overriding “close minded” mentality which he believes still characterises many Cypriots today. And he’s certainly come up with a high-profile way of doing it – by taking part in the seventh Mr Gay Europe Competition to be held on August 11 in Rome.
As the first person to ever represent Cyprus at the occasion, he is determined to fight against discrimination, and reams of supportive messages have piled in from the gay community here on the island.
“I’m going to represent my country as a proud gay man. It’s not embarrassing and we shouldn’t feel suppressed because of society. You wouldn’t believe how many people are gay in this country but continue to lead straight lives because they are scared of the reactions and repercussions,” he insists. “People here care too much about what other people think. It’s still a closed society and many actually believe that being a homosexual -whether your male or female - makes you in some way ‘abnormal’.”
Despite the cheeky twinkle in his eye, Kiri wasn’t always able to express himself in such a self-assured fashion. Like many others who struggle to come to terms with their sexuality, he spent most of his childhood and teenage years trying to hide, and even totally dismiss, what he truly felt.
“Almost all my life I felt attracted to guys and my first sexual experience was actually with a guy. But as I was growing up I started dating women; there was a part of me that was attracted to girls and I think societal pressures made me afraid to be my real self,” he recalls. “But by the time I was 16 I was sure that I was completely gay. I realised I was trying to fight the idea but it just didn’t feel right being with a woman.”
Slowly opening up to close friends, the next step was perhaps the hardest of all. “It was when I was in the army that I realised I just had to tell my mum the truth,” he says. “I felt she was so caring and loving without really knowing the real me. I didn’t like to lie.”
Being honest about his real sexual identity turned out to be a big step towards personal liberation. He now cites his mum as his “biggest fan” as she rushes around to make sure he has all the right outfits for the upcoming competition.
His dad, however, was very different. He is more conservative and Kiri hid his gayness from him for most of his life. In fact, he was only faced with the truth a mere two months ago when his son was selected to represent Cyprus in the international competition. “He had to accept that I’m gay and was upset about it. But he sees the competition as just too much. To him, being gay is one thing, but being overtly open about it is another.”
Yet the young contestant firmly believes that only transparency will eventually help dissolve the unnecessary taboos and negativity surrounding homosexuality.
“In the past I was really bullied about my sexuality; first high school and then the army. But at that point I wasn’t comfortable with who I was and I think other people detected it and picked on it,” Kiri confesses. “Now if someone says ‘you’re gay’ to me in a bad way I just proudly say ‘yes I am’. And to be honest, now that I’m confident I hardly ever get any stick for it.”
Having recently graduated from an economics and management course at a UK university, Kiri is currently living in London as he looks for a job in the field. “It’s so open there I just love it, I can be who I am without having to think about what I’m wearing or how I’m acting.”
And with that, Kiri mentions what remains one of the biggest taboos of all in Cypriot society: open homosexual relationships. “In London you can kiss your partner in the park and hold hands at the dinner table and no one will hardly look at you. If anyone dares to say anything they’d be pinpointed as being in the wrong. Here in Cyprus, you’d not only get negative attention but some people would get angry. They’re very quick to judge.”
Using his good looks as a stepping stone towards greater goals surrounding gay rights, he is no stranger to the limelight, having already worked as a model in London. Then came a message on Facebook from the co-ordinator of Mr Gay Greece and Mr Gay Cyprus a few months back, prompting him to try and secure a place as the Cypriot representative in Rome.
“To be honest I knew standing for Cyprus wouldn’t be very hard as there was only a handful of Cypriots competing for the title,” he admits.
Chosen for both his looks and outgoing personality, the past two months have included gruelling work outs at the gym and a careful watch on what he eats to look his best for the upcoming photo shoots and swimwear competitions in Rome. Kiri will be competing against 20 other buff delegates. But more than just a beauty contest, the Mr Gay Europe competition will include personal interviews and exams with a semi final event leading to the grand final.
“The winner has to be able to intelligently represent Europe and speak out about gay rights,” he states.
And does Kiri think he has what it takes to be crowned the best of them all? “I know I can be one of the top five and I’m going to give it my all to win. My goodness, it will mean everything to me. I’ve been fortunate enough in my life and want to help people who are too scared to come out of their shell. And one day, I’d like to believe Cyprus can become gay friendly.”
And as Kiri takes a huge leap of faith, he has one more wish.
“A gay pride parade in Cyprus; that’s what I’d really like to see. Actually, I’d like to plan one next year!”
To vote for Kiri in the ‘people’s choice awards’ and help him reach the final of the Mr Gay Europe competition visit: www.mrgayeurope.com/vote/